If you are in a relationship with someone who has depression, you are likely struggling with a mix of emotions and hosts of questions. What’s it really like to feel depressed? What can you do to help them through hard times? How will their symptoms and treatment impact your relationship? While every person’s experience with depression is unique, here are a few things you can do to help your loved one and yourself.
A great way to support your loved one is to learn everything you need to know about depression, including its causes, symptoms, and treatments. Ask your partner’s doctor for some reputable sources that provide the facts about depression, or do a quick search yourself on the Internet. You can start with the following reputable sources:
- Anxiety and Depression Associaton of America
- Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance
- Mental Health America
- National Alliance on Mental Illness
- National Institute of Mental Health
Separate Fact From Fiction
There are many myths about depression. For example, depression is not simply the result of laziness or weakness. Your partner’s pain may not “just be in their head.” Depression doesn’t need a reason. If you are unfamiliar with depression, challenge preconceived thoughts, ideas, and stigma by educating yourself.
It’s especially important to validate your partner’s feelings and experience of this very real and biologically-based illness, and, just like any other illness, it can be treated.
Suicide is also a very real risk of depression so it’s important to keep your loved one’s environment safe (such as removing any alcohol, drugs, or guns) and to take it seriously if your loved one is feeling suicidal.
If you are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.
For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.
Remember to Take Care of Yourself
It can be very stressful coping with another person’s depression. It’s OK to take some time out for yourself. Self-care is not selfish. In fact, you’ll both be better off if you carve out time to safeguard your mind, body, and spirit. Try:
- Eating a healthy diet
- Getting enough sleep
- Practicing relaxation strategies
- Spending time in nature
- Practicing prayer or meditation
- Staying socially connected
- Participating in hobbies and activities you enjoy
Caring for yourself might also mean knowing when it’s time to say goodbye. Certainly, this decision should be weighed carefully (and ideally discussed with a mental health professional), but you may need to walk away if you or your children’s emotional or physical well-being or safety are at risk.
When someone you care about is depressed, it’s OK for you to feel frustrated, angry, and upset. It is very important, however, that you don’t allow these feelings to fester and grow.
Therapists, counselors, and support groups are not only for people with depression. Seeking professional help for yourself can help you feel supported, vent your frustrations, and make you more aware of your own emotional needs.
Therapy can also provide answers to any questions you have about coping with the depression of a loved one. Even if you don’t go the mental health professional route, it’s important to lean on your support network during this difficult time.
Be There for Them
One of the most important things you can do for someone who is depressed is simply to be there for them and verbalize your support. Hold them close or just listen while they share their feelings. Offer to help them with making appointments or doing some of the daily chores that they are struggling to keep up with. Let them know that you are there for them in whatever way they need while they make their recovery.
Don’t Take It Personally
Depression can make people behave in ways that they normally wouldn’t when they are feeling well. They may become angry, irritable, or withdrawn. They may not be interested in going out or doing things with you like they used to. Your spouse or significant other may lose interest in sex. These things are not personal, and they don’t mean that your partner no longer cares for or about you. They are symptoms of the illness that requires treatment.
Help Out Around the House
Just like when a person has any other illness, they may simply not feel well enough to take care of paying the bills or cleaning the house. And, just like with any other illness, you may have to temporarily take over some of their daily chores until they feel well enough to do them again.
Treatment Is Important
Treatment is vitally important to a person’s recovery from depression. You can help your loved one by helping them keep up with taking their medication and remembering appointments. You can also help them by reassuring them that asking for help is not a sign or weakness or something to be ashamed of.
Offer them hope by reminding them of their reasons to keep living, whatever they may be. Perhaps it’s their children, a beloved pet who needs them, or their faith. These reasons, which will be unique to the individual, can help them hold on a bit longer until the pain subsides.
Demonstrate Your Love
Depression can make a person feel like a burden and unworthy of love and support. Proactively counteract those thoughts by telling and showing your partner that you love them. Let them know that you understand that depression is affecting their thoughts, feelings, and behavior and that you (still) love them. Reassure them that you are here to support them in their journey to get better.